With the baseball season about to end, the fantasy season nears its conclusion as well. This edition of The Verdict will deviate from my typical writing about fantasy baseball league issues and disputes. Instead, here are awards for 10 categories of fantasy goodness and badness (just go with it). The names of the categories are made up and should in no way be construed as an endorsement by the person(s) attached to the nomenclature.
10. Young MC Award for the Biggest Fantasy Bust: This award goes to the player who failed to reach and/or exceed expectations to the highest degree. The recipient is Boston outfielder Carl Crawford.
I am not one to say I told you so, but I told you so. For years, I have been flabbergasted at how overrated he is in terms of fantasy baseball. Yes, I get it, the guy steals bases and hits for average. But so do many others. This year, he signed a ridiculous contract with the Red Sox and was projected to put up numbers like no other. In preseason mock drafts, he was almost always a top five pick, and in some instances, the first or second overall selection. However, he got off to a horrendous start never fully recovered despite a few hot streaks. Those who wasted an early pick on him have been treated to a pedestrian season of .259, 11 home runs, 56 RBI, 64 runs scored and 18 stolen bases. While he is likely to improve on these statistics in 2012, it cannot be forgotten how awful this season has been for him.
9. Captain Jack Sparrow Award for Best Fantasy Hidden Treasure: This award goes to the player who most pleasantly surprised fantasy owners out of nowhere. While Curtis Granderson certainly exceeded expectations, his performance is not as surprising as one of his Yankee predecessors. No, not Gerald Williams or Karim Garcia. I am referring to Melky Cabrera.
I will be the first to admit that I never thought he could produce at the clip he did this year. After being released by the Braves, he signed a small deal with Kansas City in the offseason and was likely going to be a transitional player until one of the Royals’ many prospects was ready to claim the position. Instead, he has put up five-category numbers all season and entrenched himself in Kansas City’s outfield for next year, when the Royals hope to finally be competitive. Cabrera has hit .304 with 18 home runs, 87 RBI, 101 runs scored and 20 stolen bases. That is astounding production from a player who might not even have been drafted in your fantasy league. The question is whether the Melk-Man can deliver again in 2012.
8. Kyra Sedgwick Award for Best Closer: You may be wondering who Kyra Sedgwick is. She is the star of TNT’s show “The Closer,” which has absolutely nothing to do with baseball. She is also known as Kevin Bacon’s wife, so she is likely less than one degree separated from him.
While Mariano Rivera is without a doubt the greatest closer in baseball history and the one guy you would want in a game during the playoffs, he did not have the best season of any closer this year. That distinction goes to Braves rookie sensation Craig Kimbrel. All he has done is save 46 games while posting a 2.00 ERA and a 0.99 WHIP to go along with 126 strikeouts and four wins. He has been dominant all season and will go into 2012 as the top-ranked closer. He is a lock for National League Rookie of the Year. His his electric stuff is one of the primary reasons for the Braves’ success this year. Now Kimbrel can be used as an answer the next time you play Six Degrees of Separation from Kevin Bacon. You’re welcome.
7. O.J. Simpson Award for Biggest Fall From Grace:– The winner of the category is Jason Bay. I must preface this explanation by stating that in no way do I suspect Jason Bay has any intentions of murdering his wife or stealing memorabilia from people at knifepoint. Instead, I elicit O.J. because of his o-ce prominent stature and his subsequent fall from the proverbial pedestal.
Bay was one of the best outfielders in baseball for six years before he signed a lucrative contract with the Mets. In 2010, he struggled mightily in his first year in New York and then had his season ended prematurely with a concussion. Coming into 2011, all expectations were that Bay just needed time to adjust and get healthy, and soon enough he would begin putting up numbers commensurate with his history. Not so much. Despite some nagging injuries, Bay has played almost every day and has put up numbers that are more in line with an aging backup outfielder. His average has hovered in the .230-.240 range most of the year and has recently edged up around .250. But he still has only 12 home runs, inexcusable for a guy expected to hit 30-35 in his prime years. After two consecutive seasons of this, Bay has reached scrap heap status for your 2012 draft.
6. Biff Tannen Award for Biggest Crash Into a Manure Truck: While this award is somewhat similar to the biggest bust and biggest fall from grace, it is distinctive because it celebrates truly the worst fantasy baseball player all season. In a unanimous decision, this award goes to Adam Dunn of the White Sox.
Dunn has had statistically one of the worst seasons in baseball history with his worse-than-Mendoza-line batting average of .163 to go along with 11 home runs and 42 RBI. After averaging almost 40 homers a year since 2004, Dunn has struggled (to say the least) in his switch to the American League and the DH spot. He was pegged as a lock for another 40 home runs, 100 RBI, and 100 runs scored before the season. To say he failed to reach those expectations may be the biggest understatement ever in the history of understatements.
5. Jesus H. Christ Award for Biggest Fantasy Career Resurrection: Without getting theological, this award is given to the player whose once prominent career was deemed almost over, but suddenly came alive once again in 2011 (but without the Easter Bunny). The winner is former fantasy first round pick Lance Berkman.
After a disastrous 2010 season which saw his power sapped and batting average dropped, Berkman revitalized his career in St. Louis, hitting in a lineup with Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday. He had some nagging injuries, but he stayed relatively healthy and played in the outfield practically every day. Berkman has put up Berkman-esque numbers with a .298 batting average, 31 home runs, 91 RBI, and 86 runs scored. He slowed down significantly in the second half, but his overall production was in line with his career numbers. Whether he can replicate this next season is another question, but for 2011 we cracked open a bottle of vintage Lance Berkman circa 2005.
4. Pamela Anderson’s Breasts Award for Biggest Fantasy Improvement: Many players saw their numbers increase significantly in one area or another compared to 2010. But no one saw an increase as significant as Jacoby Ellsbury of the Boston Red Sox.
Granted he was injured most of 2010 and was limited to only 18 games and 78 at bats, but he had a resume already from 2008 and 2009. After his heart and dedication were questioned by Red Sox management and fans, Ellsbury blossomed into one of the top stars in the league. He hit over .300 in 2009, but this season saw his batting average jump to .322. Most surprisingly, he developed a power stroke and smashed 31 home runs; his career total before 2011 was 20 home. As the leadoff hitter, he has driven in 103 runs while also scoring 117 runs. His stolen base totals have dipped a bit down to 38, but that is as a result of hitting more extra base hits. He has amassed 45 doubles and five triples. He also leads the league in total bases with 356 and is near the top with 208 hits.
3. Henry Rowengartner Award for Fantasy Rookie of the Year: While Craig Kimbrel does deserve serious consideration for this award as well, this award goes to Kansas City first baseman Eric Hosmer. While the Royals did have a first baseman who won the AL Rookie of the Year in 1995, I do not see the same type of sophomore slump that Bob Hamelin suffered. Hosmer was a top prospect in Kansas City’s organization and justified the hype when he received the promotion earlier in 2011. In almost a full season (500+ at bats), he has hit .297 with 19 home runs, 77 RBI, 66 runs scored and 11 stolen bases. All indications are that he will only get better and develop more power as he gets older and stronger. He is a viable keeper option and should be in your top 10 list of fantasy first baseman for 2012.
Verlander has had one of the most dominating and awe-inspiring seasons by a pitcher in decades. He has won 24 games, unbelievable in this age of five-man rotations and an emphasis on bullpen usage. He has a 2.28 ERA and a microscopic WHIP of 0.90 to go along with his league-leading 244 strikeouts. He has four complete games, a no-hitter, and 28 quality starts out of his 33 total. He mixes a 100 mph fastball with a devastating curveball and has proven to be the true definition of an ace. In points-based leagues, he has by far the most points of any pitcher.
1. Albert Pujols Award for Fantasy MVP: In fantasy baseball, no one cares whether the team the player plays for makes the playoffs or is in contention at the end of the season. That is why this final award for best overall fantasy player goes to Matt Kemp of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
It was a close call in the end as Jacoby Ellsbury and Curtis Granderson received consideration. But Kemp is contending for a Triple Crown and emerged as one of the best overall players in baseball, both real and fantasy. Kemp is currently hitting .324, third in the National League. He also has 37 home runs (tied with Pujols) and 120 RBI (leads the National League). To go along with these numbers, he has 112 runs scored and 40 stolen bases. Put all of this together and you have the best fantasy baseball player of the year. True, Verlander could be considered for this as well, but I choose to discriminate against pitchers when giving out MVP awards. Sue me.